Technology business visionary Anita Darden Gardyne is an award-winning Black businesswoman with a personal mission of extending women’s careers, closing the pay equity gap faster, and creating thousands of living-wage jobs. As CEO and Chairman of the Board of Onēva, Gardyne combines her prowess as a trendsetter and trailblazer with this mission.
Co-founded by Gardyne in 2014, Onēva reimagines the career for caregivers while providing an enticing and essential employer-provided benefit to client employees. The certified Minority-Owned Business offers an employer-provided technology platform that matches FBI background-checked in-home care providers with employees to help them achieve greater work-life balance and peace of mind. Through the benefit, caregivers are able to carve their own schedule and pursue jobs that best match their skillset. Meanwhile, employees are comforted to know available caregivers have living FBI background checks, are fairly compensated, and are trustworthy to care for elders, children, those with disabilities, pets, and home needs.
Prior to Onēva, Gardyne spent nearly two decades in leadership positions including her role as CFO at Quantum (Seagate), leading a disk drive business unit generating $3.5B in revenue. She has also held roles at Levi Strauss & Co, IDG, and AT&T (Pacific Bell).
Gardyne holds an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and a BA in Economics and Economics in the Black Community from UC Berkeley. She has also earned a Certificate for “Scaling your Minority Business” from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Fiercely dedicated to her community, she has served as a Board Member for Oakland’s Center for AIDS Services, the Bay Area Girl Scouts, Oakland’s Vincent Academy, and the Head of Royce School Parent Association. She also served as District Secretary for the town of Kensington, CA.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Anita Darden Gardyne: Growing up in Richmond, California, during the late 1960s, I had the best childhood any girl could pray for, with Mom and Dad caring for my seven siblings and me.
As a student in a predominantly Black public elementary school near our family home, the late 60s and 70s brought a lot of change in the Bay Area. Always an ecosystem of communities that vibe in motion, change was afoot from Berkeley to SF to Marin.
For me, diversity truly entered my lexicon when she became my 5th and then 6th-grade teacher. Mrs. Gubman was a Caucasian teacher from Sausalito who chose to use her talent to do good and do well. She unknowingly taught me a lifelong lesson that still carries me to this day. She was a mom to a toddler and working as a full-time teacher across the Bridge. Even at my young age, I could see the challenges she faced balancing her career and caring for her son. After two years, she left teaching to stay home and raise her little boy. I understood the sacrifice she made in choosing to care for her family over her career. It’s amazing the unintended lessons children learn just from being exposed to lifestyles and challenges different from their own. At 12, I never imagined that some 30 years later I would face the struggle of managing a husband, home, son, and career just like Mrs. Gubman. It was the beginning of a pattern that helped me see there was an unmet need for care by families.
The lessons that I learned during these formative years helped inspire me to build and achieve my dreams in Silicon Valley. What I never imagined was that my own life experiences would create the foundation for my business, Onēva, or that my life experiences would pay forward to help so many other families in similar circumstances through the work we do.
Blessed to attend UC Berkeley starting at age 15 (in 1978) through an early STEM program, I gained life-changing exposure to economics and to a never imagined set of career opportunities available through the university’s Business School. Leaving Cal 10 years later with a BA and Double Majors in Economics and “Economics in the Black Community,” an MBA from Haas, and an MRS degree, I knew in the back of my mind there was a large number of Baby Boomers ahead of me who would need care. I also realized a whole lot of working moms would need support for their children. What I never imagined was that I would be one needing both and at the same time.
Fast forward to 2012 as I turned 50. I began thinking about stepping back into my career. As I actively planned a return to work, I looked at available care options in the marketplace in the hopes I would find a solution to help juggle the challenges of the sandwich generation -– caring for my kids and aging parents at the same time. Blessed to have added kid number two at age 41, my daughter and my mom have a 69-year age difference. With an 8-year-old and a 77-year-old at home, any chance I had at working full time required a trusted care solution. Yet the market offered none.
Today, I have the treasure of operating a technology platform that matches FBI background-checked in-home caregivers to customers who need them. The technology is built with enterprise-grade security and privacy in mind as protecting children, elders, and pets in our care is as important as protecting customer data. My childhood foundation gave me the courage to solve one of the biggest problems facing families, especially women while caring for my family.
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Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Anita Darden Gardyne: Giving up was never an option — it has never been an option for me. I knew I had an amazing technologist on board in the form of my husband and co-founder, and that we had a team of experienced people around us that had amazing experience In building billion-dollar exits. I knew I had a platform for a market that had not been served and that what we had developed would provide what they were looking for. Out of the gate we had it.
Even with this team, expertise, and technology, it was still hard. Doors certainly closed. But when the door closed, we looked for a window. When the window was closed we looked for a vent. There were points when we had early investors mailing checks for increments like $100 to help us keep the lights on, and have been so blessed to be able to pay those investors back and continue to build the service and the team.
There have been doubters. There has been discrimination, particularly when we were starting out in 2014. But we never quit. I am the 11th black female to have raised 1 million dollars. And much is changing from the #MeToo movement to the activism steaming from the murder of George Floyd to the removal of business leaders exhibiting abusive and discriminatory behavior. We still have a long way to go, but change is happening.
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Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
Anita Darden Gardyne: I’ve made a lot of those. One story that comes to mind happened early on during a key pitch in San Francisco. Nothing was going right. The deck and clicker refused to work together and I was standing in front of a room full of really key angel investors. There were some really big people in that room. I did my best to recover and make it work and learned the importance of always being ready for anything and everything to go wrong. Things happen. Tech fails. Particularly these days, we are all living with ZOOM, and Microsoft Teams and on and on, juggling tech and changes and uncertainty. That experience in that imperfect pitch back then prepared me for living in the environment we are in today.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Anita Darden Gardyne: Resilience – a combination of expressing gratitude, learning and applying history to business, and asking for help. Looking back, I never imagined the climb here would be so challenging and rewarding.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Anita Darden Gardyne: I believe in Onēva becoming a billion-dollar, global company that will continue to provide for families and caregivers whenever they need help. Our business model says that caregivers have to earn a living rate wherever they are in the world, and that’s something we strongly care about and are working to achieve.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Anita Darden Gardyne: Patience, tenacity, and clear focus are my superpowers.
Being a CEO of the company, do you think that your personal brand reflects your company’s values?
Anita Darden Gardyne: Absolutely! I have been able to work toward my mission and achieve important milestones including certification as Women’s Business Enterprise Council-owned business to add fuel to our market attractiveness. Delivering a great product AND securing minority and women-owned certifications means Onēva presents as a unique company.
It had long been my mission to find ways to help extend women’s careers and close the pay equity gap and I was incredibly fortunate to have a powerhouse like Microsoft share in this vision. Teaming up with them made building a technology stack to meet high expectations achievable and was an indisputable asset in gaining access to the $3M in capital it’s taken over these years to build a technology I can begin to monetize.
It hasn’t been easy, but we have worked hard, stayed true to our vision, and created a user experience we are proud to say all three of our customer groups and investors are enjoying.
How do you monitor if the people in your department are performing at their best?
Anita Darden Gardyne: For me, it starts with a common set of values within the village of our team. We share certain, common values that hold us together at the core. These values are aligned with our customers, shareholders, employees — every member of the village. They are what bring us together and how we work together is a reflection of those values.
The CFO in me knows how important it is to look at your metrics and budget. If you want to grow your business, it is critical to know your numbers and understand where to plow and where to plant your seeds. We keep an eye on the market — where it is growing, what our customers are buying and what they are telling us. We participate in the market and what is happening in the world. We take the opportunities to really hone in on those needs and how we can optimize for outcomes that relate to growth.
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What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Anita Darden Gardyne:
- It will take time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We founded Onēva in 2014 and are just now thinking about monetization.
- You are going to get told no a lot. You’ll ask, “Will you give me a million dollars?” You will hear, “No.”
- You won’t have all the answers. You aren’t in school anymore. As things go better you make faster decisions with less information. You never have all the answers. For me, it is about connecting my heart with my stomach with my brain. And having trusted advisors on the team that can have answers and experience when I don’t.
- When it rains, it pours. If it is raining and pouring you know you have a shot at being a unicorn for real.
What’s your favorite “business” quote and how has it affected your business decisions?
Anita Darden Gardyne: “Never Give Up. Never Surrender.” – Galaxy Quest
I live by this. As a football fan, I also recognize that as long as your feet are moving you are always in the game. We made the decision early on that we were going to do what it takes. We were going to build something that corporations could offer to their employees to ease the work-life balance. We were looking at the tech and focused on our tech build. We went our own way.
I created Onēva because people deserve access to safe and trusted home care at reasonable rates. And caregivers deserve safe, living wage jobs that allow them to care for their families as well.
That is what we have created because we never give up, never surrender.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Anita Darden Gardyne for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Anita Darden Gardyne or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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